5 Ways To Keep An Excellent Executive Assistant
By: Vanderbloemen October 28, 2015
It’s an unfortunate truth in business that the Executive Assistant position tends to be one with a very high turnover rate. Sometimes it’s due to a lack of maturity and work ethic or a boss that is unrealistically demanding, but overall there seems to be a stigma on the Assistant role as being a temporary position. But when you look at many of the top leaders in the world, they have one thing in common: a rockstar Assistant who has been with them for quite a few years, if not most of their career.
You may know what you need in an excellent Assistant, maybe you even already have one, but the real question is - how do you keep them? There are a handful of important things you can do to ensure a long tenure and healthy working relationship with your Assistant.
1. Effective Communication
You’ve heard it time and again, likely in multiple aspects of life, including all relationships: “Communication is key.” It applies here, too. An Assistant will have a difficult time doing great work for you if you are not an effective communicator. Regular check-ins should be a requirement. Depending on your schedule and type of work, decide whether a daily or weekly meeting would be best. Be sure to communicate your goals and needs clearly and concisely, giving as much detail as your Assistant needs. Your Executive Assistant can’t read your mind, even if it sometimes seems like they can.
Also, allow some time for your Assistant to ask questions. Regardless of an Executive Assistant’s experience or longevity, there is always going to be a question or two that can only be answered by you. Your Assistant is likely focused on the day-to-day details of the calendar and projects, but don’t forget to touch on the big picture, too. Is there a long-term goal you are working toward for your church or organization? Your Assistant can’t help you achieve those goals unless you share them.
You've already come to the conclusion that your professional career will be more effective with an Assistant to take care of the tasks you don’t have time for anymore. Now, trust your assistant. They know what they’re doing!
Your mental energy will be better spent on projects and decisions that only you are capable of doing, rather than micromanaging your Assistant. After some amount of time with you, they should have decision rights as well. Unless you are extremely fickle about what you choose to have for lunch every day, your Assistant can be trusted to make good choices for you. You may think you can squeeze in just one more call, but if your Assistant says it may not be a good idea, it wouldn’t hurt to listen or ask why. Perhaps your Assistant knows you haven’t had time to eat all day or you have to leave the office by 4:30pm sharp to make your daughter’s ballet recital.
At the same time, keep in mind that your Assistant is human - even if they seem to have super powers at times. We all make mistakes every so often and are better served to have the opportunity to learn from those errors. If your Assistant doesn’t have much experience in the administrative world (but still possesses a lot of potential), it would be smart to build trust a bit at a time. Give them the opportunity to take on smaller responsibilities and decisions, such as lunch or scheduling a meeting with a colleague, before allowing total calendar freedom or client communications.
3. Professional Development
Regardless of how experienced or wonderful your Assistant is, there should be plenty of opportunities for training and development. Not only does this help to keep them sharp for every day work, it is beneficial to the long-term health of your Assistant and working relationship. Someone who is being challenged and feels that they are growing in their job will likely stay on longer and be more engaged at the workplace than someone who feels like they do the same old thing every day.
For instance, training and development could be focused on a particular type of project, learning a new program or taking a class about a program currently in use, reading leadership books, or pairing a mentor with more experience as an Assistant.
Regular reviews should also be scheduled at least once per year. It is sometimes difficult to gauge where improvement is needed without discussing areas in which you are lacking. Reviews can help lead to a more established self-awareness in your assistant. Through this, they can do better work for you. Note that this goes both ways though. Personality assessments are a great tool for learning about you, your strengths and weaknesses, and learning styles. If you and your assistant are aware of one another’s learning styles, communication will come much more easily and be more efficient
This is a more specific, yet vital aspect of good communication. Setting solid boundaries and job expectations will greatly improve your working relationships and increase the longevity of your assistant. Here at VSG, we have a well known communication expectation: Emails merit a reply within 24 hours, texts should be replied to as soon as you’re available, and a call means “I need to talk right now.” This sort of expectation helps automatically prioritize various tasks or requests for an assistant.
Also, be sure to establish specific hours during which you will do your very best not to contact your assistant. Discuss and agree upon the boundaries of personal time with your assistant before this issue comes up. On that note, don’t expect too much. 10pm on a weeknight is really not an acceptable time to be texting or calling your assistant unless it’s an absolute emergency.
Another important expectation to establish involves knowing exactly what type of assistant you need. Do you need strictly an executive assistant or more of a personal assistant? Maybe you need someone who can be a mix of both. Set guidelines early on (as early as the job description you use to hire if we’re being practical) about how much or little of each type you expect. Should your assistant have a cup of coffee waiting for you every morning along with your dry cleaning? Should they be able to accommodate a change of travel plans on a minute’s notice? Should they simply remind you that you said you needed to pick up a gift for Grandma by Tuesday? Setting very clear boundaries and expectations for your assistant will help prevent burnout and frustration.
5. Show Appreciation
It’s especially easy to forget to say thank you or send a note of encouragement to someone who does things for you all day. Assistants should not require a thank you after every little task, but it is refreshing to see appreciation every so often. Know your assistant’s preference for a verbal thank you versus a nice card or text, or just some of their favorite candy. Show appreciation for random small tasks as well as major accomplishments. Lastly, based on reviews and your assistant’s work, assess salary on a yearly basis. Give raises when earned and provide benefits worthy of someone who “runs your life,” as my boss would say. An assistant who feels appreciated and knows their work is making a difference will last ten times longer than someone who is given the impression that their job is temporary.
When was the last time you showed appreciation for your Assistant?
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